On the morning of June 24, an elderly man was attacked by an 11-foot alligator near his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Upon taking hold of the man, the large reptile dragged him into a retention pond, where he later died.
According to the Horry County Police Department, the victim’s body was recovered from the pond, and a contractor hired by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) killed the gator.
“Upon arrival, units determined that an alligator took hold of a neighbor who was near the edge of a retention pond and retreated into the retention pond,” the department said in a statement. “The victim was recovered from the pond, and the alligator removed.”
On Monday, June 27, the Horry County Coroner identified the victim as 75-year-old Micheal Burstein and said that the man died of drowning after being forced into the pond by the gator.
In early May, a neighbor of Burstein’s, Jason Repak, snapped a photo of what appears to be three massive gators near the edge of the same pond and posted it on Twitter.
“I couldn’t have imagined that it was likely one of these alligators that would later kill a man,” Repak said in the comment thread below his photo. “My prayers and heart go out to the family as my arms wrap tighter around my kids and dogs near these ponds.”
In an interview on Sunday, Repak told The New York Times that alligators are a part of life near his South Carolina condominium.
“We’ve always looked at the alligators as a part of the community,” he told The Times. “Everybody treats them with a healthy respect. You try to maintain distance from the banks, and when you see them out, you admire them from afar. They’re a part of nature.”
While rare, the attack marks the second alligator-related fatality in the southern United States in less than a month. The other incident happened in late May and involved a Florida man swimming through gator-infested waters at night, searching for frisbees.
A person walking their dog discovered his mutilated body near the shoreline of a 53-acre lake inside the John S. Taylor Park near Largo, Florida—a popular spot for disc golf.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the victim of that attack was later identified as 47-year-old Sean Thomas McGuiness, a transient man who made a living selling the frisbees he’d fished from the lakebed to disc golfers on the nearby course. The newspaper said that by the time McGuiness’ body was discovered in the lake it was missing three limbs. In the days after his death, several gators were removed from the lake and killed, but subsequent necropsy results did not yield any of McGuiness’ remains.
Alligators are widely distributed throughout their range in the southern U.S. According to SCDNR, the Palmetto State is home to some 100,000 gators, and biologists in Florida estimate a population of well over one million.
Last Friday’s attack marks only the fourth gator-related fatality on record in South Carolina. The state’s first documented fatality occurred back in 2016 when an elderly woman wandered out of a care facility in Charleston County and fell into a pond where she was killed by a gator. Following that were fatal incidents on Hilton Head and Kiawah Islands in 2018 and 2019 respectively. SCDNR’s records date back to 1976 and document only 24 “non-fatal encounters” during that 46-year period.
Florida’s records go back further and show much higher fatality rates. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the Sunshine State’s gators have been responsible for 24 human deaths since 1973. Between 1948 and 1973, FWC cataloged 383 “unprovoked attacks.” Recent fatalities in Florida include the death of a 2-year-old boy at a Disney-owned resort in 2016, and a 47-year-old woman who was walking her dog when she was killed and consumed by a gator in 2018.
These tragedies are grim reminders of the importance of exercising caution while hunting, fishing, or just moving around outside in gator country. Alligators are ancient animals that can grow to 1,000 pounds and exert a bite force of more than 3,000 pounds per square inch in some cases. While they may appear lethargic and slow to the untrained eye, they are capable of short bursts of speed during an attack that can exceed 30 mph.
Wildlife officials and alligator experts recommend keeping a safe distance from the animals at all times. And whatever you do, don’t feed them, as food-habituated gators will quickly lose whatever fear they have of humans.